09.06.2017 - 09.06.2017 28 °C
Day 16 Friday June 9 2017
Erzincan to Kars / 390 km
- A very bad night's sleep and an equally bad awakening. We tune in to LBC at 4 a.m. UK time and hear the prediction of a hung parliament. Teresa May & her team have badly misjudged the political landscape and voter psychology. Even to ardent Conservatives her campaign must seem disastrous. And against all odds and even against the predictions of his own party it looks as if Jeremy Corbyn has swept up anti establishment, pro Remain, anti Conservative votes.
- Whatever our political persuasion, we all need to be concerned. Our electoral system and constituency borders no longer seem to be fit for purpose. Neither do most of our politicians.
- There's nothing much worth taking from the breakfast table for our picnic lunch stop. As usual we have boiled eggs and bring in our own coffee. We are in desperate need of caffeine this morning. The kindly Turkish waiter asks why we don't drink Turkish coffee. It's a fair question. We explain its too strong. He suggests that this is exactly the reason it is an ideal chaser to strong Turkish alcohol.
- Outside the hotel it is a lovely fine morning and a very pleasant 25C with a breeze.
- Today we continue our route through eastern Turkey to Kars where we will have our last rest day before entering Georgia, one of our 3 'destination' countries. The roads impress. Dual and triple carriageways, reasonable road surface, glorious scenery and of course minimal traffic.
- We are driving fairly consistently at around 2000m but usually across elevated plains so we have no real perception of altitude.
- At Herasan we branch off the road that ultimately leads to the Iranian border. instead we head
NE to Kars.
- Kars lies at about 1700 m. In winter temperatures drop to -30C and there is skiing within an hour of the city. The resorts are famed for powder snow.
- It has the feel of a frontier town. It is certainly a long way from Ankara. In fact Kars is the nearest city to the Turkish Armenian border which has been closed since 1993.
- During the 19C, Kars and its namesake province, was contested by both the Russian & Ottoman empires in a somewhat tug of war scenario. In 1828 the Russians seized control, later they lost power and then regained it in 1878. After World War 1 the area fell to Armenian rule and subsequently to the Turkish Republic.
- These days the only Russian connection is seen in the architectural style of some of the buildings that are dotted around the older part of town. Many are now under preservation orders - signs on the buildings designate this status. But for a large number of these it is still very much 'work in progress' or indeed, not yet even started. Many of the protected buildings are in a very dilapidated condition.
- As an aside, Wikipedia is unobtainable in Turkey. Facts, figures & general information whilst in Turkey does not come from this source. We wonder why. It may have something to do with political commentary about Turkey's 20 C Ottoman history, as well as current government changes that are happening under Erdogan.
- Kars has a population of around 75000 and it is estimated that about 20% are Kurds. Several people we speak to stress their Kurdish identity. They are also Turks.
- The truck receives some care & attention today - AG changes the oil & oil filter. Something that is necessary every 5000km and is therefore now overdue.
- Whilst AG is at the local garage, SG attends to her principle domestic chore - washing laundry. A 2 day stopover always means laundry day. We have brought with us : washing liquid, universal plug, a couple of elasticated washing lines & clothes pegs. All part of the traveller's essential kit.
- Our hotel is charming: clean, simply but tastefully furnished and calm. It's a little oasis in a city of generally very average modern architecture.
- It is classified as a Butik Otel ( probably with justification ). There are only 8 rooms ( not all of them free from traffic noise ) so if you are coming to Kars and wish to stay here, you will need to book ahead. The owner lives in Ankara & has a second ' Butik otel ' near Bodrum on Turkey's Agean Coast Called Casa Costa Sitesi (www.casacostahotel.com) with sea views, terrace dining etc. - might be nice too? The hotel Manager in Kars Otel, who is also Kurdish, speaks enough English to be a source of good advice about where to eat & visit.
- Kars Otel has been converted from a Russian style building that dates from 1901. It was originally used by the military. Later after the departure of Russian soldiers it was occupied as a residence by 4 Turkish families.
- Its stone walls are about a meter thick - for insulation from the cold winters and for natural cooling during hot summers. Whereas the front facade is obviously of Russian influence, the rear aspect is distinctly Ottoman. See photographs.
- Late afternoon we venture out for a walk around some of the old buildings of Kars. This takes us down to the river where an old Hamam is supposedly being renovated. The scenery is dominated by Kars Castle on the hill beyond and minarets of the numerous mosques.
- We also want to check out where we might eat this evening. We are ever hopeful of local culinary delights.
- We stop for liquid refreshments ( still no beer ) in a riverside cafe. The river is sadly polluted and not at all fragrant. As has been the case all through Turkey, even if we cannot actively converse with each other, the Turkish people have shown us kindness, interest and good humour. We are approached several times by young people who are curious about our origins and are keen to practise their English.
- We must again eat Iftar supper this evening. It seems we have no choice. It is a set menu individual to each restaurant. But SG suspects that there are certain traditional Iftar foods that feature regularly - a bit like eating Christmas food for 28 days.
- We leave Turkey on Sunday so we only have more more night of Iftar suppers, soda water and the Mullah's dawn wail. On the return leg of our journey we will be spending another 11 days in this vast & richly cultural country but Ramadan will be over for another year.